Feeds

Microsoft: Gmail rival Outlook.com will 'look good on your iPad' 

Cloudy Hotmail successor features Metro-like UI

Remote control for virtualized desktops

Microsoft has launched a successor to its venerable Hotmail web-based email service, in hopes that a revamped UI, integration with social networks, and tighter ties to the software giant's cloudy online services will woo users away from rivals, in particular Gmail.

"We think the time is right to reimagine email," Microsoft's Chris Jones wrote in a blog post announcing the service. "So today, we're introducing a preview of Outlook.com. We realized that we needed to take a bold step, break from the past and build you a brand new service from the ground up."

Although Redmond's new webmail borrows its branding from the Office suite's flagship desktop messaging client, however, it doesn't try to mimic the desktop experience in the browser. Rather, Outlook.com has its own, Metro-like UI that aims to minimize clutter and make efficient use of screen real estate, even on small devices.

"Half the screen space in Gmail is wasted," said Brian Hall, general manager for Windows Live and Internet Explorer, in a briefing with The Reg. "People just learn to tune it out."

With Outlook.com, Hall said, the goal was to make every control context-aware, so that only those menu options that are relevant are visible onscreen at any given time. For example, when the user isn't reading a message, the "Reply" menu disappears completely.

In addition, the controls are all designed to be large enough that everything is accessible from a touchscreen, Hall said, "even at iPad resolution."

The web-based message viewer is similarly context-aware. For example, when an email contains a set of photos as attachments, Outlook.com can display them as a slideshow, rather than simply listing the filenames.

Screenshot of Outlook.com showing attachments and Facebook integration

Webmail goes cloudy with integrated social networking and document viewers.

For messages containing Office documents, Outlook.com integrates with the Office Web Apps, enabling instant previews of Word, Excel, and PowerPoint documents within the browser window.

Other kinds of content the email viewer can recognize include YouTube videos, calendar appointments, and updates from shipping services – including FedEx and UPS.

The email app also integrates seamlessly with Microsoft's SkyDrive cloud storage service. Very large files are automatically sent as SkyDrive links, rather than attachments, and incoming SkyDrive links look like ordinary attachments within the Outlook.com viewer.

All synced up

According to Hall, some 17 per cent of the email messages a typical user receives today are updates from social networks. Outlook.com tries to make the relationship between email and social networking more meaningful by integrating directly with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and others.

The Outlook.com address book can sync contacts from social networking accounts, including photos. It also provides tools for conducting social networking activities without leaving the site; for example, users can write on their Facebook contacts' walls or initiate Facebook chat from directly within Outlook.com.

When displaying an email from a social networking contact, Outlook.com might also display that contact's latest Facebook or Twitter update.

Hall says Microsoft plans to integrate Skype calling into Outlook.com in the near future.

Like its rivals, Microsoft's new webmail is ad-supported, but Redmond is taking pains not to alienate users with too much intrusive advertising. Initially, all the user sees are unobtrusive, text-based ads. Those become graphics when the user rolls over them, and clicking on them displays a pop-up box with more information and links.

Screenshot of Outlook.com Inbox showing targeted ads

They have to pay the bills somehow.

What's more, when Outlook.com detects that an email thread is a person-to-person conversation, rather than something from a mailing list, ads are disabled automatically.

"When you're emailing to another person, that's when it can get dicey," Hall told El Reg. "I might be telling someone that my mom has cancer and see ads for beauty salons."

Outlook.com began signing up new users on Tuesday. Current Hotmail customers can also migrate their existing accounts to the new service, taking their inboxes and all their contacts with them. They can even keep their current Hotmail.com email addresses, if they choose.

Hotmail users will not be forced to make the switch, however. If they try Outlook.com but decide they don't like it, they even have the option of switching back to Hotmail.

That's for now, at least. Hall told El Reg that although Microsoft will operate both webmail services "for a while," the long-term plan is to move everyone to Outlook.com. Just how long-term that plan is, he declined to say. ®

Top 5 reasons to deploy VMware with Tegile

More from The Register

next story
That dreaded syncing feeling: Will Microsoft EVER fix OneDrive?
Microsoft's long history of broken Windows sync
Mozilla, EFF, Cisco back free-as-in-FREE-BEER SSL cert authority
Let’s Encrypt to give HTTPS-everywhere a boost in 2015
SLURP! Flick your TONGUE around our LOLLIPOP – Google
Android 5 is coming – IF you're lucky enough to have the right gadget
Nokia's N1 fondleslab's HIDDEN BRILLIANCE: The 'Z Launcher'
Sugarcoating Android's Lollipop makes tab easier to swallow
Bug fixes! Get your APPLE BUG FIXES! iOS and OS X updates right here!
Yosemite fixes Wi-Fi hiccup, older iOS devices get performance boost
Microsoft: Your Linux Docker containers are now OURS to command
New tool lets admins wrangle Linux apps from Windows
Facebook, working on Facebook at Work, works on Facebook. At Work
You don't want your cat or drunk pics at the office
Soz, web devs: Google snatches its Wallet off the table
Killing off web service in 3 months... but app-happy bonkers are fine
Meet Windows 10's new UI for OneDrive – also known as File Explorer
New preview build continues Redmond's retreat to the desktop
prev story

Whitepapers

Choosing cloud Backup services
Demystify how you can address your data protection needs in your small- to medium-sized business and select the best online backup service to meet your needs.
A strategic approach to identity relationship management
ForgeRock commissioned Forrester to evaluate companies’ IAM practices and requirements when it comes to customer-facing scenarios versus employee-facing ones.
Reg Reader Research: SaaS based Email and Office Productivity Tools
Read this Reg reader report which provides advice and guidance for SMBs towards the use of SaaS based email and Office productivity tools.
Beginner's guide to SSL certificates
De-mystify the technology involved and give you the information you need to make the best decision when considering your online security options.
New hybrid storage solutions
Tackling data challenges through emerging hybrid storage solutions that enable optimum database performance whilst managing costs and increasingly large data stores.